The Wichita Wagonmaster's Windwagon is the biggest toy in the territory, and the men of the Wagonmasters operate it exclusively under the command of Admiral Windwagon Smith.
The Wagonmasters were born when Pat Brooks (first director of Wichita Festivals, Inc. and now and honorary Wagonmaster), after kicking the Windwagon Smith story around for a couple of years and needing a theme and support group for the festival, presented the idea to her board in late 1973. The chartering began in early 1974 for an organization to support the river festival and other projects of benefit to the city.
Some say that Captain Smith and his Windwagon were only a legend - not entirely so - wagons with sails were an actual part of early Kansas prairie history. You can find pictures of them in Kansas history books.
Wonderful Walt Disney brought it all to life in a movie cartoon in the early 1960's with the famous western quartet, The Sons of the Pioneers singing the story from Doggerel of an Old Sea Dog, ships log of the original Captain Windwagon Smith, who fancied himself a bit of a Poet.
Then it all became real when the River Festival adopted the Windwagon and its skipper (now promoted to Admiral) Windwagon Smith as the standard bearer.
Sam (Shipwright) Mobley, with much arm-twisting by his wife Margaret (assistant festival director - also an honorary Wagonmaster) designed the original Windwagon patterned after the cartoon model with official permission from Walt Disney Enterprises. Bill and Bob Goebel and the Star Lumber gang built and donated it to the festival. Members of the Festival Board did the painting. The Windwagon is now owned jointly by Wichita Festivals, Inc. and Wichita Wagonmasters. The current ship is Windwagon II. As we wore the original one out parade wise, shipwright Sam and Star Lumber came up with a more rugged one. Captain Earl Callison had an early crack at mast designing.
Admiral Windwagon Smith is nominated each year by the Trail Bosses, the Past Admirals, and Wichita Festivals, Inc. Board of Directors, and then the selection is made by PAWS. The Admiral reigns over the festival in May, and serves throughout the year. The Admirals court, the Prairie Schooner Mates is made up of the top Junior girl from each of the Wichita area high schools.
They accompany the Admiral as he and the Windwagon lead the magnificent Sundown Parade that kicks off the festival, and on his round of duties throughout the year.
The Wagonmaster organization is made up of 100 business and professional men - 76 Top Hands (in honor of the Bicentennial), 24 Greenhorns, and various assorted Old Hands (too old to work, but plenty of life left to party).
Membership applications are accepted on behalf of any business or professional man at least 25 years of age, with a full years residency in the Wichita area.
The Trail Bosses are the governing body of 6 to 15 members serving three year terms. Leadership is provided by a Captain, First Mate (Social), Purser (Treasurer) and Yeoman (Secretary).
The Admirals get the accolades, but it's the Captains who handle the heavy work of making the Wagonmasters go. One of the highlights of the year is the Changing of the Guard. Each June the new Captain is installed, and the old Captain gets his Just Desserts. This can take such violent form as a concrete tycoon being buried alive in cement , or various other ghoulish punishment for fitting crimes of the past Captain.
The Windwagon sails under the watchful eye of The Elite Guard of the Windwagon, with its Commander, Navigator, and Bosun. Chief duties of the guard are to escort the Windwagon on parades and perform and elaborate Piping off of the Admiral at the reviewing stand. The Bosun pipes and the Admiral makes his grand descent under an arch of crossed mops. Mops are used because for a Conestoga Windwagon with a Sail the crew are naturally part sailors as well as being cowboys.
After going through several stages, the Wagonmaster uniform has evolved into: Western hats and boots, orange scarf, jeans, blue western shirt, custom-made leather vest, and leather belt with Windwagon buckle. The Elite Guard substitutes white gloves and shirt for the Spit and Polish ceremonials with the Admiral.
In a One Day Barn Raisin, a home was built at Cowtown for the Windwagon, with an adjoining room for Trail Boss meetings. Jim Grier III's Eby Construction Crew and Bob Goebel's Star Lumber Boys gave mighty assistance based on Callison's Keeler Concrete. The Wagonmaster volunteers did Peon work. It was another Shipwright Sam design with help from Monty Robson. Dave Norris plumbed, G. Haag furnaced, Fahnestock air-conditioned, Scotch and Sirloin gave chairs and a refrigerator, and Harbor Master Bob Goebel (with great help from Rosalie) papered, painted, curtained, tiled and furnished a comfortable home for weary seamen.
The Windwagon annually sails at the Special Olympics, the Sundown Parade, and is on location at all Festival events. We've sailed to Arkansas City, Derby, Halstead, Hutchinson, Kingman, Sedgwick, Valley Center and Oxford. In 1975 we sailed in the New York Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (preempted from nationwide TV coverage and instant glory by a McDonald's hamburger commercial). The King of Sweden passed us by in fast review in Lindsborg in 1976.
Some of the manpower events in the Wagonmaster schedule are Steffen's Ice Cream Social and the Old Town Block Party for the River Festival, and a new and fast-growing civic event - The Good Life Awards: a black-tie dinner where local citizens are rewarded for excellence in such field as education, public service, community leadership, etc. We've also been in and out of Roasts, Rodeos, Cook-offs, Freedom Trains, etc.
The work is all fun, and a lot of ˜fun only events include Commedia Party, Mountain Oyster feed at Dean Norris' Angus Acres, K.C. trips, Super Bowl parties, Valentine parties, Clambake (Lobsters available), Tail Gate Party and Special Seating for the Festival Pop Concert, with other events popping up occasionally.
A great number of Cowboy/Sailor heroes have sailed with the Windwagon. Congressman Dan Glickman once carried a mop in the Elite Guard. You'll find many more famous names in the following lists of Founders, Captains, Admirals, and Trail Bosses. The Admirals have their own exclusive club - the PAWS (Past Admiral Windwagon Smiths).